The Allure of Pebble Beach

In August, US collectors head for The Beach; Jonathan Stein went too

According to John Steinbeck, ”Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise. . . a dream.” The same could be said about nearby Pebble Beach, especially during the third week in August every summer. The stink comes from unburned fuel, oil, fresh paint and leather, the grating comes from starters and racing engines and tractor trailers as they unload their precious automotive cargoes. These magnificent automobiles certainly qualify as dreams to the thousands of spectators who flock to see the fairways of the Lodge at Pebble Beach flooded with the most glorious automobiles ever to be built and over-restored.

For 1996, as in prior years, a marque and a coachbuilder were featured. Lincoln was the car and Zagato the carrozzeria. 19 Lincolns were registered, from a 1922 Model L through to the 1996 Sentinel show car, with 20 examples of Zagato coachwork, from a 1930 Alfa Romeo 1750 to the current Raptor from Zagato offshoot, SZ Design. Many of the cars presented at the event — even magnificently built Duesenbergs, Maybachs and Bentleys — are finished to a degree that their meticulous builders never imagined. But they are a wonder to behold, not only in their splendour, but in their sheer numbers. Six Duesenbergs, seven pre-war Rolls-Royce, four V-16 Cadillacs and twelve Ferraris; add to that a smattering of Bugattis, Delahayes, Packards and esoterica like Abarths, a Le Mans Adler, a Pegaso, and even the famous 1925 Duesenberg “Banana Wagon” of racing great Pete DePaolo. There may be paint and chrome aplenty, but Pebble Beach isn’t short of variety.

There is far more to the Concours than just beautiful cars. Beautiful people abound, drinking champagne and smoking expensive cigars. There are dinners, private luncheons and receptions. The annual Automotive Fine Art Society exposition offers the greatest selection of current automotive painting and sculpture seen in one location, with further enticement offered by the incredible Monterey Historic Races at nearby Laguna Seca, and the spectacular Concours Italiana, held at Quail Lodge in neighboring Carmel Valley, two days before the main event at Pebble Beach.

And at Pebble no class was harder fought than that of the Duesenbergs. A freshly restored exGeorge Whittel Murphy coupe owned by Lee Harrington pipped the unusual and elegant Walker coupe owned by TV titan Jay Leno. In both cases, top flight restorers laboured until the final moments to prepare perfect automobiles. When talking about winning at Pebble Beach, multiple dollar signs usually figure, as in the case of Duesenberg. Ferraris and multi-cylinder big classics. So, it was particularly refreshing to see the postwar custom coachwork class won by Jack Vopal’s Pegaso Z102/103 by Touring. Dismayed by estimates of $24,000 (£16,000) just to restore the engine, Vopal and family tackled the car themselves, topping one of the nicest ArnoIt Bristols ever to roll across a golf course.

Top honors went to Sam and Emily Mann’s 1938 Delage D8-120 De Villars Cabriolet which survived comparison to 25 other class winners to secure the coveted “Best of Show” award, which to concours competitors is the crowning achievement. Another 17 special awards were meted out for everything from historical significance to the “Most Elegant Sports Car”.

Say what you will about the excesses of restoration and conspicuous consumption one simply hasn’t lived until one has seen the early morning fog burn off to reveal several hundred magnificent vehicles fronting one of the Pacific’s most spectacular views. Fight the traffic, fight the crowds and damn the expense — but pay a late August visit to Pebble Beach at least once before you die.